Move to Heaven is currently airing on Netflix. It’s only 10 episodes long, so I highly recommend you wait until you have 10 hours to spare because it will be very difficult not to binge this drama in one sitting. I myself stayed up until 3:00 AM last night, even though I had to get up at 7:00 AM, because I had to know how it ended… I needed the completion. I was a total emotional wreck for, roughly, ten hours. And I am extremely glad to be working from home today so I don’t have to see anyone in person, cause my face is a puffy mess from crying… repeatedly… just… sobbing all over the couch. I haven’t cried over a show in a long, long time, ya’ll… but this one hit me hard.
It’s a perfect 10/10 drama. It has it all – blood, sweat, and tears. It’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The characters are so memorable and fully developed over the series. The individual story lines that tie to the deaths are diverse and show the “end” may be different for everyone but every life is valued. The cinematography, music, and editing are perfect – and with a tight 10 episode run time, you don’t have to suffer through the dreaded flashbacks upon flashbacks or ridiculously long sequences of, say, staring at someone, that are the plague of so many lengthier dramas. This drama hooked me from the first episode and did not let go until the final credits… and arguably is still holding on to me, cause I am rooting for a second season (and I don’t like multi-season dramas – and hope that their creation and use remains sparse so we can ensure K-dramas maintain their originality and casting shuffles).
There is a little humor, a little mystery, but overall I would call this a standard DRAMA drama. It’s a story about people – a very sentimental one, but also a highly unusual one. It revolves around trauma cleaning – which is a specialized service that comes in and cleans up homes in which someone has died. They both sanitize the spaces, as well as pack up and organize the possessions of the deceased. It is not for everyone, certainly. Just like working in a hospital or a meat processing plant or a nursing home is not for everyone.
There will be blood. And… other icky things.
But such is life, and death, and this show does not gloss over the nastier aspects of the gig.
It doesn’t linger on it, either. Anything shown is important to the story telling of the individual episodes. This is also the case with any violence in the show – and there is some violence as well. My mother would have been disturbed by some of the scenes in this show – but she doesn’t watch television except on rare occasions and hasn’t been as desensitized by the media as most general audiences are. Anyways, I suppose viewer discretion should be advised.
To balance out this rather dark topic of death cleaning, we have the beautiful stories of the deceased which are brought to light as the crew digs through their belongings. We have the lovable characters of the main cast. The leading male has Asperger’s Syndrome and his uncle has just gotten out of prison for illegal fighting. These are two very isolated men, with very distinctive personalities, who are attempting to live together for the first time. Add on top of that an incredibly nosey and overprotective neighbor, and you (as a viewer) have a highly enjoyable trio to follow.
Overall Rating 10/10 – Learning to Live a Better Life by Cleaning Up After the Dead.
And now I shall babble about the characters – including full spoilers for the entire show so please watch it first before proceeding…
This drama had four of the most memorable characters in Korean Drama history.
Usually, when you finish a drama, you can easily recall the main cast. After a few days, maybe you remember the two central characters and the rest get fuzzy. After a few months… even that may slip away unless you’re helped out with a quick glance at the poster or the icon on Viki or whatever. This is not to say that the characters weren’t awesome in that show – but there’s a certain effort in characterization required to stick someone firmly in your head – and most importantly, how the characters interacted together and whether or not that was essential to the plot are also factors that contribute.
Though I have seen this show recently, I am relatively certain that I will be able to recall all four main characters vividly the second anyone mentions Move to Heaven.
Here is who they are and why they are so memorable to me.
The father was only in… what? Two or three episodes? And he was only alive for one! But this man is 100 percent a main character. He made such an impression in the first episode – and his influence and parenting were what directed, subconsciously, the rest of the show.
The father established many things for us very quickly. We learned he had complete patience and understanding of his son. We learned he had taught (and was still teaching) his son valuable lessons about relating more to others by understanding their behaviors and motivations – with both the living and the dead. We learned he was also a strong role model, a man who practiced what he preached. We learned that though his job was not glamorous, he took it very seriously and gave it the respect and attention it deserved (arguably much more than it deserved – but this was also linked to using it as a teaching vehicle for his son). This genuine and kind man was clearly the foundation of the family, and you immediately liked him – and his son – right away.
There is a book called Save the Cat – as well as many others – that talk about how you can use situational “shorthand” to define a character. Saving the cat, or doing a good deed, immediately establishes a protagonist as a hero. The father was quickly established a hero using several key scenes: His respect for the dead. His gentle understanding and patience with his son. His earnest conversation with the man who hauled the garbage away on a truck. His delivery of sentimental items to the family of the deceased. And most importantly… his “save the cat” scenes – where he stands up the bullies, so to speak, at the funeral hall. Defending someone for no reason other than it being the right thing to do. He not only stood up to the bullies, but he created a bridge – a path to understanding – between the people being taken advantage of and those taking advantage. His other “save the cat” scene was coming to the aid of his son, who had been misunderstood and accused of stalking. Again, he acts more as a bridge to understanding in this scene – and we realize through the edit jump that the misunderstanding was not only resolved, but the two parties involved had come together in resolution (with the nurse offering the pin to the son).
I will not lie – when the father died I bawled all over the couch. I was a sobbing mess. I’d only known him for one episode and I was already emotionally invested in him. This is evidence of great character writing. And though the father was not physically in the rest of the show (well, with a few flashback and “ghostly” exceptions) – his character was so solidified in our minds that we understood how he still played a role.
Every time the son sat down to eat. The empty room in which he once slept. The routines and skills he helped teach his son. The harmonious life that the father and son had built together was being disturbed – and the contrast between the father and his brother (the new uncle character) were a huge part of the conflict of the plot. The fact that we understood these two men as opposites, even though we only knew the dad a short while, is amazing.
Speaking of… let’s jump into the uncle.
I had watched Signal a while back and enjoyed it thoroughly. But I did not connect this actor, Lee Je-Hoon, to that role. It was only after I’d finished this series, a ball of tears and joy, that I started seeking out other dramas this guy might be in. It lead me back to Signal (which I rewatched and loved all over again) and Taxi Driver (which blew me away and I will be reviewing very soon). It also lead me back to Tomorrow with You (which I still hated and turned off) and Where Stars Land (a baffling, boring, and bizarre romantic drama that I skimmed through and did not enjoy). I haven’t given up on the man to play a romantic lead, but he’s gonna have a find a better scripted drama to convince me he can do it. At the moment, I adore him as the feisty male lead with only vaguely hinted at sexuality.
In this drama, he was outstanding as the scrappy young pup who’d clearly made a lot of poor life decisions. What was amazing about this show was how much you understood right away – before the backstories were ever revealed. You understood immediately that this was a guy who did not trust other people, who had been let down, who had learned to rely on no one but himself. This was a man who had been hurt, both physically and emotionally. He was someone who had been separated from his family and had no idea how to interact with them. He was angry. He was lost. He needed help but would never ask for it.
You knew from the first moment he showed up that he needed someone as much as the son did. Maybe even more. And you knew he was the stray dog that would that bark, growl, bite, and hide itself away as much as it could. That it was going to be a long road to recovery. Looking forward to watching that miracle unfold was part of the emotional draw of this story. It’s like those videos that pop of – of stray or injured animals – and you watch them knowing that you’re going to see them transform, be set free, and it’s going to make you feel wonderful – about the world, about humanity, about how we have to help each other. And lo and behold… that’s exactly what we were delivered. Heartwarming transformation.
The scene I will remember most is at the end, when the lawyer or caseworker explains that he does not think the uncle is a good fit as a guardian. And you can FEEL the uncle’s heart breaking as he tries to shrug it off, tries to keep a straight face, tries to feign his indifference to this news. And he’s on his feet so quickly, to eager to run away, scamper off and hide his wounds. He’s practically out the door when the lawyer tells him that the son has a different opinion, and wants him to stay as the guardian. And that look on his face when he realizes he can go home… that he has a home… those barely contained tears, the genuine smile – oh my god, I tear up just thinking about it. That scene will haunt me forever. That’s good script writing and good acting coming together in perfect marital bliss.
THE NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR
The plucky next door neighbor, Yoon Na-Ma, is the audience bridge character. Since most of us probably can’t relate easily to a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome or a cage-fighter who has just been released from prison, we have the next door neighbor character as our “point of view.” She is the one watching this drama unfold in the house next door, worrying over what will happen next, defensive of the son – who she perceives as more vulnerable, while being judgmental and wary of the uncle as she tries to determine whether or not he is a danger to her friend.
The next door neighbor was my favorite character – because she was the perfect counterweight to both men. I got the sense that she adopted the role the father had once played for her. When the father and son first moved in, I have a feeling it was the father who taught her how to understand and connect with his son. He was undoubtedly the one who bridged the gap between the two young people so that they could interact harmoniously and develop a friendship. Now the neighbor has to adopt that same role, acting as the bridge between the uncle and son. Just like the father had to figure her out, being this bridge requires her to figure out the uncle… and all of his quirks and unique traits in order to best navigate the relationship between him and the son. This is not to say the son isn’t also figuring out the uncle – he most certainly is – but its through the POV of the next door neighbor that we see the most evidence of it, because she’s much more external and verbal in expressing herself. So we watch her face bunch up when she’s confused and we watch her push and shove when she’s annoyed and we watch her eyebrows come together when she’s concerned and sorting through her thoughts. She is our bridge as much as she is theirs.
Just like us, she is curious to know more about the uncle and discover what kind of person he really is.
She is the found family, the outsider who has merged with this family like any good daughter-in-law or adopted sister would. You get the distinctive impression she was the one who pushed first to become a part of this family – just like you get the distinctive impression that the men in question wouldn’t want it any other way. Like real family, they can joke about how little they need each other but it’s clear as day they are inseparable pieces of a larger whole.
One thing I really appreciated about this drama was how they handled the relationship between the next door neighbor and the son. Childhood friends who are now stumbling into adulthood. Because of… society… and also just genetics… we are hardwired to start making assumptions or inserting more context onto these two young people. Are they “friends” or are they more? Does she like him as a brother, a friend, or a possible romantic interest? How does he see her? And I really, really, really like that those questions were not answered. Sure, she tells the uncle she’s liked the son since she was six. But the way she says it and the way she interacts and emotes do not necessarily tip the scales in either direction. And that’s perfect.
She just loves him. She enjoys his company over others. She fits best into this unique family and she knows it. She follows her heart. She sticks by the sons side, even as her mother lectures her about the future, even as a handsome young cop expresses romantic interest in her. She acknowledges there are options, but she sticks to her choice.
And we don’t know. We don’t know what will happen in the future. We don’t know if she’ll start to want more than she can be offered from the son – or if she’s perfectly happy letting things remain as they are forever. We don’t know what sort of relationship or future she may want beyond what she already has. We don’t know. And we don’t need to know for this chapter of the story. It’s perfect not knowing. It feels… real.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the son. The young man with Asperger’s syndrome. The guy who needs a little more and a little less than your average dude.
I love how they portrayed this character. You never felt sorry for him. Ever. You felt sorry with him – when his father died, when he was frustrated, when he was lonely or confused – but you never felt sorry FOR him. And that’s a big distinction.
I absolutely loved watching him figure out how to navigate his new situation. How he solved the puzzle of adapting to and incorporating his new uncle into his life. How he subtly changed, gaining more confidence, becoming more assertive, figuring out new ways to express himself. It was so nicely done.
The fact that this was a story about grief, specifically about the loss of the father, was layered in so nicely as the son dealt with the losses of others through his job. It was so subtle, too. Like in the episode where the estranged son figures out his mother, suffering from dementia, had been stuck in a happy memory from their past and repeatedly wanted to buy him a suit… and that guy just breaks down finally into hysterical sobs. Each of the stories in a way emphasized something fundamental about humanity – but also reminded us how differently that could look for others, such as the son. That sort of cathartic release of emotion will never be something the son can experience – he sorts through things in his own way. And throughout this show, he is sorting through the loss of his father – slowly letting go and adjusting to life without him.
The episode where he finally cleans out his father’s bedroom… such a gorgeous full circle.
And oh my god, that scene where he cooked breakfast for his uncle and asked him to sit at the table… and you see he’s still made a seat for his father, symbolizing how he has not let go of his father but how he has now made “space” for his uncle… I was wrecked!
This is one of the few shows were I would be delighted if they created another season. I honestly would love to see one more chapter in these people’s lives. Now that they have all come together, found their footing, I am so curious to know what might come next. This largely stems from the final scene of the show.
The introduction of the girl who knows she’s going to die – and having the son make eye contact with her seems especially symbolic to me. Add to that the white butterfly/moth – a common symbol for god, spirits, and the divine – and I don’t think we can ignore this scene as an obvious introduction to a “next chapter” storyline. This story line was about letting go of the father – of finding out what had gone unsaid (the misunderstanding that separated him from his brother) and making peace with his loss. I feel like the introduction of the girl with the white butterfly is an obvious hint that his mother will be the next influence that is explored – or perhaps the aspects related to motherhood (relationships, love, and expanding families).
Now, if this season never gets made I will be fine with it. The hint alone was enough that I understood, metaphorically, the next challenge to this trio was going to be romantic relationships or the lack of. The uncle, the son, and the next door neighbor, now that they are all comfortable together, will have to deal with the next phase of their lives and figure out what that means for them and each other. The implication is enough. But I’m greedy and would really love to see it played out on screen. I’m certain whatever the script writer comes up with will be better than whatever I could imagine.